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Proud Nerd

27 May 2013 by shartley   

I have just had one of the most nerdy and fun weeks of my life.

Over the last seven days I have been to two events at the Sydney Writers Festival (Nick Earls and Sarah Turnbull) and have thus had the creative writing part of my brain sparked.

I have toured six schools this week (Pymble Ladies College, Coburg Senior High School, Brighton Grammar School, Glen Waverley Secondary College, Tintern and Lilydale High School) and consequently enjoyed deep discussions with other passionate educators about trying to find the best way to provide the most conducive environment for learning and what exactly learning entails.  Some schools did a PR job whereas others were genuine and honest about their failures as much as their successes.  A particular shout-out to Katherine Hart and Wendy Linnett who are on Twitter.

I was touring Melbourne schools with three of my Oakhill College colleagues.  Whenever we sat down for a meal we shared our hopes and plans for the future strategic direction of our school.  It was such a blast to talk in such a meaningful and deep way, finding our educational philosophies extremely aligned and excited about possible new directions.

On my return to Sydney on Saturday I went straight from the airport to meet with Geoff Riley from Eton College and co-founder of tutor2u.  For another couple of hours I was immersed in the language of innovation and education. It was very cool.

I took copious notes during our school visits, and of some of our informal discussions, and have enjoyed starting to organise these jumbled notes into a coherent report.  This is now in a GoogleDoc where my colleagues are also contributing to the process over this weekend.

The following is just some of the educational concepts that I hold to be important.

General educational philosophy:

Schools should be a thriving community focused on learning in a modern world.

Under the Board of Studies NSW the end goal is for students to maximise their marks in the HSC.  This is an important aspect of schools and the learning process but it is not a singular goal.

I am proud to be part of a school that strives to be a caring and respectful community where achievement is valued.  I want my students to learn their place in the world and contribute to it in a positive and meaningful way by being the best they can be, sound in character and active in society.

To be able to participate in a meaningful and positive way in society students need to develop skills in problem solving, communicating and collaborating.  They also need to be resilient for when the world is tough and unfair.

Schools can no longer be insular.  Classes can no longer operate in isolation.  The world is becoming increasingly globalised, connected and informed through technology.  Schools must be a part of this modern world.

Physical Spaces of Schools

Classrooms should have sliding glass doors to communal open spaces, preferably indoors with flexible seating arrangements to allow collaborative learning to occur naturally.  Classrooms need to be resourced to allow a range of pedagogical practices including having desks on wheels to make changes easy.  Glen Waverley Secondary College had the best example of what I visualise as ideal but also saw some good little nooks at Tintern.

Geln Waverley Open Space (1)

Geln Waverley Open Space (1)

Glen Waverley (2)

Glen Waverley (2)

Tintern A/V Space

Tintern A/V Space

Tintern Collaborative Communal Space

Tintern Collaborative Communal Space

I also think a Café provides a good atmosphere on many different levels.


Number one priority is to have the infrastructure working reliably for everyone.  Wifi needs to be fast and consistent.  Students need access 1:1 to computer devices with long lasting battery life.  My personal preference at the moment is for Year 7-10 to have iPads and Years 11-12 to operate in a BYOD system.


It took me about three years to be able to pronounce the word ‘pedagogy’ and another three years to be comfortable using it.

  • School vision needs to align with reality – a combination of reward, compensation and benchmark standards is required to align staff with vision
  • It is important for a pedagogical shift to be advocated and modelled by senior leadership so there is one message
  • There also has to be a sense of working alongside staff to help negotiate the change
  • Focus should be on learning instead of schooling
  • Learning should be student centred with less emphasis on the teacher up front delivering content (dot-point driven)
  • Students need to be actively learning big concepts
  • There should be authentic learning as opposed to textbook knowledge, going beyond knowledge and understanding – students need to:
    • THINK (problem solve, analyse, evaluate, etc)
    • collaborate
    • create
    • innovate
    • empathise
    • actively support and promote social justice
    • be flexible
    • “Work with the living, not the dead” – tap into the enthusiastic teachers and to an extent a movement will occur.

I’m so excited about the future and being part of a transitional process at my school. Hopefully through our wonderful team we can help shape a strategic plan for a future where learning is the focus of everything we do, balancing all the educational aims and needs we hold to be true.


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  1. Kathryn McGilvray says:

    Fantastic blog post. So wonderful to see your enthusiasm and passion. For each generation we stretch the way we think and learn and it is through innovation that we share our love of life, learning and knowledge.

    So glad to see you fired up. Hopefully others will be inspired to think outside the box.

  2. Catherine Hart says:

    A pleasure to read one of your ‘rare’ blogs Shani! It is inspirational and honest people like yourself and Oakhill team that makes others feel like the trials (and there are many) and successes (and there are just as many although sometimes you need to look for them) worthwhile – hope to stay in touch… from a fellow Ginga Ninja 🙂

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